Exclusive Interview – “Japan Needs Nuclear Deterrent.” Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Dr. Corr has extensive experience in providing strategic analysis on international policies, with deep insight into event chains in Asia. His academic research on social movements and the predictors of revolutions, coups and the deterrence of nuclear terrorism makes his interview particularly germane to our readers concerning the current situation in Asia and how the effects of military technology can affect global strategy. The Liberty is privileged to share his insights on the near-future repercussions of the nuclearization, or non-nuclearization, of Japan as it faces the growing unrest in North Korea, and the possible impact on Japan.


Anders Corr is the founder of Corr Analytics Inc., providing international political risk analysis to government, commercial, non-profit, and media clients, and publishing the Journal of Political Risk. He has a Ph.D. in Government from Harvard University, and a B.A. and M.A. in international Relations from Yale University (Summa cum laude). He authored “No Trespassing: Squatting, Rent Strikes, and Land Struggles Worldwide” (South End Press, 1999), and edited “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: The New Game in the South China Sea” (U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2017). He frequently appears in the media, including Bloomberg, Financial Times, New York Times, CNBC, UPI, Fox, Forbes, National Interest, Nikkei Asian Review, and World Policy.

Interviewer: Satoshi Nishihata


Japan Needs for Nuclear Weapons

Interviewer: On January 31, you expressed your opinion in Forbes that Japan, which is surrounded by authoritarian threats, needs nuclear weapons. There were a lot of events including North Korea’s nuclear and ICBM tests after you wrote it. Are there any major updates? Any factors you want to add or modify, to your article considering them?

Anders Corr (hereinafter referred to as Corr): North Korea’s recent nuclear and missile tests underline the need for Japan to acquire its own nuclear deterrent. North Korea is acting in an irresponsible manner on its own accord, or at the behest of its allies, China and Russia. If North Korea’s leadership is acting alone, Japan needs not only a deterrent nuclear force, but sophisticated conventional forces that could act in concert with Japan’s allies to disable North Korea’s military leadership, nuclear, and conventional forces with a non-nuclear strike. Not considering these combined nuclear and conventional options, and not having the force and strategic services to carry them out, will limit Japan’s security in the future.


Holding China and Russia Responsible

If China or Russia are encouraging North Korea’s nuclear provocations, then a nuclear deterrent is necessary, along with a nuclear negligence doctrine that holds these countries, and other enablers, responsible for anything that North Korea does. Not holding China and Russia responsible for North Korea’s actions would allow these authoritarian superpowers to use North Korea against Japan and its allies in a relatively risk-free manner.


The Russian Threat

Interviewer: You mentioned the threat of Russia as well as China and North Korea. China is a communist country where fundamental human rights are not guaranteed, but Russia is not the Soviet Union any longer, and its economy is very weak. It does not appear to have such an aggressive ambition for global hegemony as does China. Do you think Russia is still one of the major threats to Japan?

Corr: While Russia as Russia is less of a threat than during the Soviet era, it is now subordinate to China, on which it depends for energy exports. Russia’s increasing economic dependency is arguably forcing it to do China’s bidding in the international system. While this relationship is less obvious than is the close China-North Korea relationship, it is becoming increasingly evident. To the extent that China sees Japan as an enemy, therefore, Japan must regard China’s closest allies, including North Korea and Russia, as possible threats. The increasing number of Russian and Chinese air incursions into Japanese airspace over the past few years is testament to this developing Chinese-Russian alliance. Given Russia’s extensive security, economic, and diplomatic challenges globally, I doubt Russia would have increased its air incursions against Japan but for encouragement from China. Russia also sees China as a long-term strategic threat to its low-population Eastern areas. That means that Russia could be drawn away from China as an ally, and attempts should be made to split China-Russia cooperation, including in the realms of defense, economics, and diplomacy. This may be the impetus for President Trump in attempting to befriend President Putin. However, Russia’s occupation of parts of Ukraine and Georgia, and meddling in elections in Europe and the U.S., cannot be ignored. Russia is not a democracy, and therefore cannot be a reliable ally to democracies.


The Potential Reaction of the U.S. to the Nuclearization of Japan

Interviewer: How do you think the U.S. government sees this topic? Does Japan need authorization from or negotiation with the U.S. government to decide to have nuclear weapons? If Japan decides to build its own nuclear weapons, does it not hurt the U.S.-Japan ties, which may be crucial to maintaining stability in the Asia-pacific region considering the rise of China?

Corr: Japan is a democracy under threat from multiple allied autocracies on its borders, including China, Russia, and North Korea. For Japan to remain unprotected by a nuclear deterrent is detrimental to the security of all democracies. If these autocracies were to increase military threats against Japan to curtail Japan’s own security operations yet further, the stabilizing influence of Japan in Asia would erode and the likelihood of military conflict would increase. Thus it is in the interests of Japan’s allies, including the United States, to support a Japanese nuclear deterrent.

President Trump actually implied support for a Japanese and South Korean nuclear deterrent during his election campaign, which is a new high water mark for U.S. support of a nuclear Japan. It is possible that President Trump’s advisors have since influenced President Trump on the issue, perhaps to improve his negotiating position with China on the North Korean issue. There could be some resistance on the part of the U.S. to announcement of a nuclear Japan, including economic sanctions. But those sanctions would likely be removed quickly. Initial U.S. opposition to a nuclear Britain and France rapidly fell away in the 1950s and 1960s, which is the closest historical example. The U.S. needs a positive relationship with Japan for many economic, military, and diplomatic reasons. If the U.S. seeks to punish Japan economically or diplomatically for acquiring a nuclear deterrent, it will do so only symbolically, with advance warning to Japan, and for a short period.


Japan’s Rights as a Sovereign Democracy

Japan is a sovereign democracy on the front line with China, Russia, and North Korea, and therefore has the right to determine whether its security needs require a nuclear deterrent. Japan should not have to seek permission from the U.S. to acquire such a deterrent. It would make sense for Japan to seek U.S. technological and diplomatic support for a Japanese nuclear program, and that would best be achieved through advance negotiations between the two allies. But by so doing, Japan does not give up its sovereign right to decide on how best to protect Japanese citizens.

Japan is also a country in which the rule of law is strong, and law enforcement and security procedures are very much sufficient to protect Japan’s nuclear weapons from any rogue actors who might try to steal the weapons. This is not the case in other countries, such as Russia and Pakistan. Yet, the U.S. has not allowed Pakistan’s nuclear weapons to interfere with positive U.S. relations over the long run. Nuclear forces have arguably gotten these countries increased positive attention and concessions compared to what they would have gotten had they stayed non-nuclear.


A Strong Japan Creates a Regional Military Balance

A strong Japan, including a nuclear deterrent, will eventually improve U.S.-Japan relations. The U.K. has a nuclear deterrent, and the U.K. is perhaps America’s closest ally. Over time, a nuclear Japan will allow the U.S. to redeploy a portion of its Asia forces elsewhere, or decrease military expenditures while maintaining the same level of security, all else equal. A nuclear Japan will help restore a regional military balance to Asia, allowing the U.S., which is increasingly incapable of balancing China in Asia, to forward-deploy more of its forces to protect Europe from Russia. The U.S. would still leave significant forces in Asia, but those forces need to be buttressed by new Japanese and South Korean capabilities to effectively deter China.


China’s Retribution to the Nuclearization of Japan and Unintended Consequences

Interviewer: China seems to be clearly against the idea of Japan’s gaining the bomb. What kind of actions do you think China will do when Japan decides to have a nuclear deterrent of its own?

Corr: China sees Japan as a long-term strategic competitor in Asia. China needs to bring Japan under its influence, whether by military threat, economic incentives, or both, in order for China to attain regional hegemonic status. Increasingly since the 1990s, such a status appears to be China’s goal. So, China will strongly oppose a nuclear Japan. We can see that China used a wide range of military, diplomatic, and economic measures to oppose the much lesser threat of THAAD introduction to South Korea. China imposed economic penalties on South Korean service sectors operating in China, such as entertainment, tourism, and supermarkets. China thereby fostered domestic South Korean political instability. Finally, China’s public complaints over THAAD provided diplomatic cover for North Korea to increase its military threats against South Korea in response to THAAD. China thereby benefitted according to its narrow definitions of national security. Japan must expect these forms of retribution and more from China if it goes nuclear. China will provoke international diplomatic condemnation of Japan by its allies and economic dependents that may continue for decades. Such Chinese diplomatic pressure could be countered or at least mitigated by the U.S. if the U.S. is supportive of Japan’s nuclear deterrence. China will seek to impose economic sanctions on Japan. Again, the U.S. and Europe might be able to counter these sanctions if Japan includes them, as is already likely, in early strategic negotiations. China may increase its own military brinkmanship against Japan if it goes nuclear. This might include more incidents at sea, increased air incursions on Japanese air space, increased deployment and exercise of missile forces, and perhaps the encouragement of increased military provocations by North Korea. However, these measures would now have a new limit – China would have to take into consideration that such activities could escalate to the point of limited nuclear conflict with Japan. This should give China pause, and would strengthen Japan’s ability to defend its territories, maritime operations, and air space.


A Bomb in the Basement

Interviewer: Is the idea common that Japan is a “de facto” nuclear state that possesses a “bomb in the basement”? What is your opinion about this idea?

Corr: It is highly likely that Japan already has a nuclear program that can assemble multiple nuclear warheads, matched with its already-existing missile forces, within a matter of months if not weeks. Japan already has the technical expertise and extensive stores of reactor-grade plutonium necessary to produce small nuclear weapons. The U.S. should, however, help Japan technically with acquisition of modern nuclear weapons.


The Need For Japanese Deterrence to Preserve Liberty and Protect Democracy

Interviewer: Japan has been allergic to nuclear arms due to its tragic history and post-war education. Japan also has held the “Three Non-Nuclear Principles” as its nuclear policy that prevents the government from discussing nuclear weapons publicly. Do you think it is a good idea for Japan to become a nuclear state despite its allergy?

Corr: Japan’s tragic history with nuclear weapons gives it an understandable and laudatory bias towards non-nuclear pacifism. Japan’s three non-nuclear principles are a result: non-possession, nonproduction, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons. If more countries followed Japan’s example, especially democratically-unaccountable regimes that are as a result less predictable than democratic countries, the world would be a better place. Democratic countries never attack each other, but autocratic countries are less predictable in that they sometimes attack democratic countries. These countries also show a profound lack of respect for human rights that make their possession of nuclear weapons all the more dangerous. China, Russia, and North Korea’s nuclear weapons are by their very existence a threat to the democratic world, and are used as a threat in these countries’ attempts at increasing their territory and influence, including against democracies such as Japan, South Korea, Philippines and Ukraine. In such a world, peaceful democracies such as Japan must unfortunately arm themselves. And in a nuclear world, only nuclear arms are a sufficient deterrent. For Japan’s own protection, and the protection of democracy more generally, Japan should rapidly overcome its nuclear allergy.


The Need for Public Discussion and Leadership

The nuclear strategic and technical issues are highly complex, and Japan needs to start discussing the issues publicly and in coordination with its allies. The Japanese public must know of the grave threats from China, Russia, and North Korea, so that the public supports a strong nuclear deterrent. This requires more public discussion of the matter, and greater leadership on the part of knowledgeable individuals in Japanese and allied public service. Japan cannot afford to have rules of silence on any issue related to the defense of its sovereignty, including its own lack of a nuclear deterrent. Such a rule is not democratic, because it does not encourage the informed electorate necessary for a well-run democracy.


The NPT Issue vs the Threat of Nuclearization

Interviewer: Should Japan withdraw from the NPT?

Corr: Withdrawing from the NPT may be necessary for Japan to acquire a nuclear deterrent, but there are steps to take prior to doing so.

First, the threat of Japan going nuclear may in itself decrease China’s territorial and diplomatic aggression towards Japan. Japan can use the threat of going nuclear in negotiations with China to lessen China’s territorial aspirations with respect to the Senkaku Islands, Taiwan, and a pro-Beijing unified Korea, for example. Japan can also use such a threat to make clear that China’s arms race is having the opposite of the intended purpose. It is not intimidating other countries, but leading them to arm and thereby threaten China, including with deterrent nuclear force. Faced with a potential nuclear Japan, China just might make the right decision and deescalate its instigations of the regional arms race of the past few years. If so, Japan would not need to nuclearize.


An Integrated Military Command As a Nuclear Deterrent

If China persists in its defense buildup, Japan could alternatively seek to integrate its military command structure with that of the U.S., and acquire de facto control of U.S. nuclear arms. The U.S. and South Korea have an integrated military command structure in the Combined Forces Command (CFC), as did NATO nations in Afghanistan. In both cases, close allies interweave their command structure, strengthening, readying and unifying the military alliance for time of war. There are always tensions within such structures, especially when the U.S. leads without sufficient input from allies, but they are less so than under the looser alliance structure that we see today between the U.S. and Japan. If Japan achieved such an integrated military command structure with the U.S., a smart international lawyer should be able to argue that Japanese forces with de facto control and possession of U.S.-owned nuclear weapons are not in technical violation of the NPT, because the U.S. retains de jure control. Yet Japan’s de facto control would give it the full power of nuclear deterrence as it would always have the ability to use the nuclear weapons in its possession should there be a disagreement with de jure U.S. leadership. Such an arrangement would be in the interests of both the U.S. and Japan, as it would give Japan a nuclear deterrent without technical violation of the NPT.

(The end of interview)

Exclusive Interview – “Japan Needs Nuclear Deterrent.” Anders Corr, Ph.D.
Copyright © IRH Press Co.Ltd. All Right Reserved.